The Affair of The Clasps

We were three friends, Syomka, Karguza, I, and Mishka, a bearded giant with large blue eyes which were always swollen with drink and beamed kindly on everyone. We lived on the outskirts of the city in an old, tumbledown building which for some reason was called “the glass factory,” perhaps because there wasn’t one whole pane in all of its windows.

We undertook all kinds of work: we cleaned courtyards, dug ditches, cellars, cess-pools, demolished old buildings and fences, and once we even attempted to build a hen-house. But in this we were unsuccessful. Syomka, who was always overly conscientious regarding the tasks we took upon ourselves to perform, grew doubtful about our knowledge of the architecture of hen-houses, and one day, during the noon rest-hour, he took the nails, the ax, and two new planks, all issued to us by our employer, and carried them off to the pot-house. We were sacked for it, but as we owned nothing, no compensation was demanded of us.

We were living from hand to mouth, and all three of us felt a dissatisfaction with our lot which was natural and legitimate under the circumstances. Sometimes it became so sharp as to rouse in us a hostility toward everything about us and inspire us to the somewhat riotous exploits covered by the “Code of Penalties Imposed by Justices of the Peace.” Generally, however, worried about where the next meal was coming from, we were glumly stolid, and responded weakly to everything that did not promise material advantage.

All three of us had met in a doss-house some two weeks before the occurrence I wish to relate because I think it interesting. Two or three days later we had already become friends. We went everywhere together, confided in each other our hopes and plans, shared whatever any one of us came by, and, in fact, concluded among us a tacit defensive and offensive alliance against life, which was treating us so harshly.

During the day we looked diligently for something to take apart, saw up, dig, carry from one place to another, and if such an opportunity turned up, at first we tackled the job with a will. But perhaps because at heart each of us considered himself destined for higher things, than, for example, the digging, or what is worse, the cleaning, of cess-pools, after a couple of hours the work was no longer attractive. Then Syomka would begin to express doubts as to its necessity.

“You dig a pit. What for? For slops. And why not just pour them out in the court-yard? It won’t do, they say. It will smell. Pshaw! Slops smell! What rot people talk, from having nothing to do. You throw out a pickled cucumber, for instance. How can it smell, if it’s a little one? It will lie there a day or two—rot away, and disappear. Of course, if you throw a dead man out into the sun, he will smell, to be sure, because man is a large beast.”

Syomka’s philosophizing considerably chilled our zeal for work.…And this was rather profitable for us if we were hired by the day. But when it was piece-work, we would take our pay in advance and spend it on food before the job was finished. Then we would go to our employer and ask for extra payment. In most cases he would tell us to get out and would threaten to force us, with the aid of the police, to complete the job already paid for. We would argue that we couldn’t work if we were hungry, and with some heat insist on more money, which we generally succeeded in getting.

Of course, this was not right, but really it was very advantageous, and it isn’t our fault if life is so awkwardly arranged that doing the right thing is almost always disadvantageous.

Syomka was the one who always took it upon himself to dispute with the employer, and he conducted the argument with an artist’s skill, setting forth the proofs that he was right in the tone of a man worn out by work and crushed under its weight. As for Mishka, he looked on, held his peace, and blinked his blue eyes, now and then producing a kind, conciliatory smile as though he were trying to say something, but couldn’t bring himself to do it. He usually spoke very little, and only when drunk was he capable of making something like a speech.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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